The Inauguration of Cuba’s New President, Miguel Díaz-Canel

On April 19, Miguel Diaz-Canel officially became Cuba’s new President of the Councils of State and Ministers. Born after the Revolution in 1960, he grew up in the central province of Villa Clara, about three hours from Havana, the son of a schoolteacher and a factory worker. He studied electrical engineering at the Central University of Las Villas, where he was active in political life. After service in the Cuban military and a civilian mission to Nicaragua, he started work for the Communist Party of Cuba in 1993, and has advanced within the Party and the government to the position of First Vice President of the Councils of State and Ministers before his inauguration as President.[1]

President Díaz-Canel’s Inaugural Address

Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, had the following introduction to the inaugural address: “On the morning of April 19, a historic date . . .  [which saw] the first defeat of Yankee imperialism [at the Bay of Pigs in 1961] . . . [and which now] . . . sees the inauguration of a new [Cuban] government that makes evident the continuity of the new generations with the legacy of the historic generation that founded the Cuban Revolution in the highest leadership positions of the country, compañero Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez,.”[2]

Below is a photograph of Díaz-Canel giving his speech.

Díaz-Canel began by recognizing the leadership of Army General Raúl Castro, the candidate for deputy to have received the most votes in the recent general elections; as well as the Comandante of the Revolution, “who on being in this room offers us the opportunity to embrace history.”

Díaz-Canel “also referred to the ‘dark attempts to destroy us’ of those who have not been able to destroy ‘our faith.’” (Emphasis added.)

With the inauguration of this new legislature, he emphasized, the electoral process comes to its conclusion. “The Cuban people, who have massively participated throughout, are conscious of its historic importance. They have elected their representatives based on their capacity to represent their localities, without media campaigns, corruption or demagoguery. Citizens have elected humble, hard-working people as their genuine representatives, who will participate in the approval and implementation of the country’s policies. This process has contributed to the consolidation of unity in Cuba.”

On the people’s expectations about this government, he stressed that the new Council of State must continue “acting, creating and working tirelessly, in a permanent bond with its dignified people.”

He also added that if anyone wanted to see Cuba in all its composition, it would be enough to look to its National Assembly, with women occupying decisive positions in the state and the government. However, he warned, it does not matter how much we resemble the country we are, if the commitment to the present and the future of Cuba is lacking. The raison d’être of the Councils of State and Ministers is the permanent link with the population.

Díaz-Canel pointed out that during the closing of the last Party Congress [in 2016], Army General Raúl Castro Ruz made it clear that his generation would hand over the flags of the Revolution and Socialism to the younger generations. This emphasizes the importance of the crucial mandate given by the people to this legislature, and as such its work in all areas of the nation’s life must be perfected.

“I assume this responsibility with the conviction that all we revolutionaries, from any trench, will be faithful to Fidel and Raúl, the current leader of the revolutionary process,” the new President of Cuba stated. (Emphasis added.)

He then stressed that the men and women who forged the revolution “give us the keys to a new fraternity that transforms us into compañeros and compañeras,” and highlighted, as another inherited achievement, the unity that has become indestructible within the Cuban Party, that was not born from the fragmentation of others, but from those who intended to build a better country.

For that reason, he said, “Raúl remains at the forefront of the political vanguard. He remains our First Secretary, as the reference that he is for the revolutionary cause, teaching and always ready to confront imperialism, like at the start, with his rifle at the ready in the moment of combat.” (Emphasis added.)

Regarding the revolutionary and political work of the Army General, he highlighted his legacy of resistance and in the search for the continued advancement of the nation. “He put his sense of duty ahead of human pain,” he said in reference to the loss of Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro on November 25, 2016.

Likewise, he highlighted Raúl’s grandeur as a statesman, forming a national consensus, and the manner in which he led the implementation process of the country’s social and economic guidelines. He also highlighted how he had made the return of the Five Cuban Heroes [in December 2014] a reality, so longed-for by Fidel.

Raúl has marked Cuba’s international relations with his own spirit: he directed diplomatic relations with the United States; he led the rotating presidency of CELAC; Cuba’s hosting of the Colombian peace talks; and he has been present in all regional and hemispheric summits, always defending Our America. That is the Raúl we know, Díaz-Canel stressed.

The new Cuban President also recalled how the Army General, still very young, participated in the Granma expedition, undertook the struggle in the Sierra Maestra, was promoted to Comandante, and developed government experiences that would be applied in the country after the revolutionary triumph.

I am aware of the concerns and expectations at a moment like this, but I know the strength and wisdom of the people, the leadership of the Party, the ideas of Fidel, the presence of Raúl and Machado, and knowing the popular sentiment, I state before this Assembly that compañero Raúl will head the decisions for the present and future of the nation.” (Emphasis added.)

I confirm that Cuban foreign policy will remain unchanged. Cuba will not accept conditions. The changes that are necessary will continue to be made by the Cuban people.” (Emphasis added.)

He also called for the support of all those who occupy leadership responsibilities at different levels in the nation, but, above all, of the people. “We will have to exercise an increasingly collective leadership. Strengthening the participation of the people.”

“I do not come to promise anything, as the Revolution never has in all these years. I come to fulfill the program that we have implemented with the guidelines of Socialism and the Revolution.” (Emphasis added.)

And as for the enemies of the revolutionary process, he said: “Here there is no space for a transition that ignores or destroys the work of the Revolution. We will continue moving forward without fear and without retreat; without renouncing our sovereignty, independence and development programs.”

“To those who through ignorance or bad faith doubt our commitment, we must tell them that the Revolution continues and will continue. The world has received the wrong message that the Revolution ends with its guerrillas.” (Emphasis added.)

Former President Raúl Castro’s Response

 Immediately after the inaugural address, Raúl Castro, the former President and still the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, closed the second plenary session of the National Assembly of Popular Power [Cuba’s national legislature], with the following remarks:[3] Below is a photograph of Castro during his speech.

Castro recalled the victory of Cuba during the mercenary invasion of Playa Girón [Bay of Pigs]. “That moment was of great importance, especially when Fidel declared the socialist nature of the Revolution, he said.”

“He also pointed out the opportunity of recognizing the work carried out by the electoral commissions and of candidates to all the instances, as well as of the set of institutions that collaborated for the good performance of the elections. He also congratulated the elections of the National Assembly to the State Council of the country.”

Castro  “said that Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez had worked as an engineer, and his work as an officer of the FAR. Then he was proposed as a professional cadre of the Union of Young Communists, from where he gradually rose to achieve his promotion as a Professional Party cadre.”

He pointed out that Díaz-Canel, during the [most acute phase of the] Special Period “was a member of the Provincial Party Committee in Villa Clara, where he spent nine years. Then he spent six years in Holguín. “He was born in Villa Clara, where he was quiet, because it was a territory he knew well; and it was after that that he was sent to one of the great provinces of the east, Holguin, as we did with more than a dozen young people, most of whom came to the Political Bureau, but who failed to be promoted. He was the only survivor.

Castro also stressed that Díaz-Canel had been a member of the Central Committee since 1991 and was promoted to the Political Bureau 15 years ago. He fulfilled a mission in Nicaragua and graduated from the National Defense College. In 2009 he was appointed Minister of Education. Five years ago he was elected First Vice President of the Councils of State and Ministers; and since then “a group of members of the Political Bureau had the feeling that we had hit the nail on the head,” referring to Díaz’s ability to assume the presidency. He was responsible in the ideological sphere of the Central Committee of the Party.

Raul pointed out that the election of Diaz-Canel is not a coincidence “because of his preparation he is the best and we know that because of his dedication he will have absolute success in the task entrusted to him by our supreme body of ‘Popular Power.” (Emphasis added.)

Comrade Díaz-Canel over the years he has demonstrated work capacity, ideological solidity and commitment to the Revolution.

The National Assembly of Popular Power has 42% new members and a female representation of 48.4%. Castro emphasized that women, young people and people of color occupy decision-making positions in the life of the nation.

“It is up to the Party, the State and the Government to fulfill and enforce, with due intentionality, the promotion of young people, women and mestizos, to posts that guarantee the renewal of the revolution.

He welcomed the ratification of the presidency of the National Assembly, and the proposal of Diaz-Canel, as allowed by the Constitution, so that the Council of Ministers will be made known at the next session of the Assembly, which will take place in July, because that it will allow for a prudent time for the movements of paintings to be made.

I will continue to serve as Second Secretary of the Central Committee of the PCC, in what is my second and last mandate, which ends in 2021, when we will complete the transfer to the new generations. From then on, I will be one more soldier with the people defending this Revolution. So that there is not the slightest doubt, I want to emphasize that the PCC, in the figure of its First Secretary, will continue supporting the [new] president.” (Emphases added.)

Regarding the new generations, he warned that one of the permanent bets of the enemy is to penetrate, confuse and alienate youth from the ideals of the work and the revolutionary culture leading them instead towards disengagement towards ethics, solidarity and the sense of duty.

Castro said that in the next constitution there will be no changes in the strategic objective of the Party, which our people will support as in 1976, when Cubans voted in favor of the current constitution with 98% support.

He pointed out that in the Plenary Session of the Central Committee held in March of this year, the economic and social status of the nation was analyzed. The new constitution has lagged behind us, he clarified, because the country’s main problems are not resolved, because the participation of the organisms from the base was not achieved for the adequate implementation of the adopted policies.

We never had any illusions that it would be a short and easy process, because its dimensions reached all sectors of society, and we had to overcome egalitarianism and its negative consequences in the national economy, he added.

In the case of the socioeconomic context of the nation, Castro assured that the experiment of the non-agricultural cooperatives will continue and with respect to the monetary duality he said that he continues to give serious headaches, as well as the need for wage reform. He also emphasized the need for a coherent communication policy. (Emphasis added.)

He also recalled the difficult circumstances in which the country’s economy had to develop, and the considerable damages caused by the intense drought of the last 3 years and the recent hurricanes that affected most of the country. (Emphasis added.)

With regard to foreign debt, he stressed that a renegotiation has been carried out, which has helped to free the new generations of a sword of Damocles and the consequent restitution of the credit prestige of the country. The Army General congratulated the Minister of Economy, Ricardo Cabrisas, on his performance in that process.

He also made a call to save resources, claiming that we usually ask for too much, so we have to plan better.

“Defend unity, resist and resist, that is the duty of revolutionaries,” he said.

Regarding foreign policy issues, said the recent Summit of the Americas  was marked by the neo-hegemonic attitude of the United States, whose commitment to the Monroe Doctrine was ratified, especially with the exclusion of Venezuela from that international event. (Emphasis added.)

It was known that they would set up a show, and Cuba went to Lima with its own right and its head high, which confirms the determination of the Cubans to defend their principles and their values. The Cuban delegation, together with that of Bolivia and other countries, prevented a single front against Venezuela. The interventions of our foreign minister, on behalf of the government and Cuban people, constituted a worthy response against the contents of the interventionist speech of the Vice President of the United States, Raul said. (Emphasis added.)

“The members of civil society defended the voice of Cuba and the peoples of America with vigor. I take this opportunity to congratulate all the members of the Cuban delegation that participated in this event, “he said.

The Army General stressed Cuba’s commitment to ALBA because we are the world’s region of greatest inequality in the distribution of wealth, and the gap between rich and poor is huge and growing despite the efforts made in the past decades, when Progressive governments pushed for policies to mitigate this evil, he said.

He rejected accusations of human rights violations in Cuba. He highlighted diplomatic relations with the European Union and the progress of ties with China. (Emphasis added.)

“In just 11 days our people will march together united by our streets and squares commemorating the International Labor Day and showing the majority support of the Cubans to the Party and its Revolution.

Conclusion

As anticipated, these comments by Díaz-Canel and Castro demonstrate a collective intention to continue Cuba’s current direction, domestically and internationally. Their mutual admiration is shown in the photograph below.

In another post we will look at U.S. reaction to the change in Cuba leadership. Some of that reaction was recorded before the actual inaugural of Díaz-Canel.

 

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[1] Ahmed & Robles, Who Is Miguel Díaz-Canel, Cuba’s New President? N.Y. Times (April 19, 2018); Cordoba, After 59 Years, a Castro Is No Longer Official Leader of Cuba, W.S.J. (April 19, 2018).

[2] Miguel Díaz-Canel: I assume this responsibility with the conviction that all the revolutionaries will be faithful to Fidel and Raúl (+Video), Granma (April 19, 2018).

[3] Raúl Castro: The Communist Party will continue to support the new President, Granma (April 19, 2018).

 

New Restrictions on U.S. Travel to Cuba and Transactions with Certain Cuban Entities                                     

On November 8, the U.S. Treasury, Commerce and State departments released regulations imposing new restrictions on U.S. citizens travel to Cuba. Taking effect on November 9, they “are aimed at preventing U.S. trade and travelers from benefiting its military, intelligences and security arms of the Communist-ruled country.” In addition, they require U.S. travelers on “person-to-person” trips “to use a U.S.-based organization and be accompanied by a U.S. representative of the group.”[1]

This blog post will first provide a list of the Treasury Department’s 12 categories of general licenses for approved travel to Cuba, only two of which are directly affected by the new regulations. These two categories will be discussed followed by the new regulations ban on transactions with certain Cuban entities that affects all 12 categories.

Categories of Approved Travel[2]

“Travel-related transactions are permitted by [OFAC’s] general license for certain travel related to the following activities, subject to the criteria and conditions in each general license: (1) family visits; (2) official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; (3) journalistic activity; (4) professional research and professional meetings; (5) educational activities; (6) religious activities; (7) public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; (8) support for the Cuban people; (9) humanitarian projects; (10) activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; (11) exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials; and (12) certain authorized export transactions.”

Only the two categories in bold are affected by the new regulations—travel for “educational” reasons (organized and people-to-people) and “support for the Cuban people.”

Formal Educational Travel[3]

OFAC states, “Among other things, this general license authorizes, subject to conditions, faculty, staff, and students at U.S. academic institutions . . . to engage in certain educational activities, including study abroad programs, in Cuba, Cuban scholars to engage in certain educational activities in the United States, and certain activities to facilitate licensed educational programs. U.S. and Cuban universities may engage in academic exchanges and joint non- commercial academic research under the general license. This provision also authorizes persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to provide standardized testing services and certain internet-based courses to Cuban nationals.

In addition, “educational exchanges, including study abroad programs, sponsored by Cuban or U.S. secondary schools involving secondary school students’ participation in a formal course of study or in a structured educational program offered by a secondary school or other academic institution, and led by a teacher or other secondary school official are authorized. Such exchanges must take place under the auspices of an organization that is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction, and a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction who is an employee, paid consultant, agent, or other representative of the sponsoring organization (including the leading teacher or secondary school official) must accompany each group traveling to Cuba. For a complete description of what this general license authorizes and the restrictions that apply, see 31 CFR § 515.565(a)(2)(vi). This authorization allows for participation of a reasonable number of adult chaperones to accompany the secondary school students to Cuba.”

“People-to-People” Educational Travel[4]

“OFAC is amending the general license for people-to-people educational activities in Cuba to remove the authorization for individual people-to-people educational travel. This general license now authorizes, subject to conditions, persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to engage in certain educational exchanges in Cuba under the auspices of an organization that is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction and sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact. Travelers utilizing this general license must ensure they maintain a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities, and that will result in meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba.”

“The predominant portion of the activities must not be with a prohibited official of the Government of Cuba, as defined in 31 CFR § 515.337, or a prohibited member of the Cuban Communist Party, as defined in 31 CFR § 515.338.”

“A person subject to U.S. jurisdiction who is an employee, paid consultant, agent, or other representative of the sponsoring organization must accompany each people-to-people educational group traveling to Cuba to ensure that each traveler has a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities. Individuals traveling under the auspices of an organization that is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction and that sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact may rely on the entity sponsoring the travel to satisfy his or her recordkeeping obligations with respect to the requirements described above. OFAC is amending this general license to exclude from the authorization direct financial transactions with entities and subentities identified on the State Department’s Cuba Restricted List.”

Support for the Cuban People” Travel[5]

“This general license authorizes, subject to conditions, travel-related transactions and other transactions that are intended to provide support for the Cuban people, which include activities of recognized human rights organizations; independent organizations designed to promote a rapid, peaceful transition to democracy; and individuals and non-governmental organizations that promote independent activity intended to strengthen civil society in Cuba. OFAC is amending this general license to require that each traveler utilizing this authorization engage in a full-time schedule of activities that enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities and that result in meaningful interactions with individuals in Cuba. OFAC is also amending this general license to exclude from the authorization certain direct financial transactions with entities and subentities identified on the State Department’s Cuba Restricted List. The traveler’s schedule of activities must not include free time or recreation in excess of that consistent with a full-time schedule in Cuba. For a complete description of what this general license authorizes and the restrictions that apply, see 31 CFR § 515.574.”

“ Renting a room in a private Cuban residence (casa particular), eating at privately owned Cuban restaurants (paladares), and shopping at privately owned stores run by self-employed Cubans (cuentapropistas) are examples of authorized activities; however, in order to meet the requirement of a full-time schedule, a traveler must engage in additional authorized Support for the Cuban People activities.”

Ban on Transactions with Certain Cuban Entities[6]

The new regulations also ban U.S. travelers and businesses from transactions with “the large military-run corporations that dominate the Cuban economy. These include GAESA and CIMEX, the holding companies that control most retail business on the island; Gaviota, the largest tourism company; and Habaguanex, the firm that runs Old Havana.” The regulations include a list of forbidden hotels, including Havana’s “Manzana Kempinski, which opened with great fanfare this year as Cuba’s first hotel to meet the international five-star standard.”

This “Cuba Restricted List,” which will be maintained and updated by the State Department, has the following categories of organizations (and the number of entities in each category): Cuban Ministries (2) ; Cuban Holding Companies (including CIMEX,GAESA, Gavotte and Companies Touristic Habituate S.A.) (5) ; Hotels in Havana and Old Havana (27); Hotels in Santiago de Cuba (1); Hotels in Varadero (13); Hotels in Pinar del Rio (2); Hotels in Baracoa (7); Hotels in Cayos de Villa Clara (15); Hotels in Holguín (11); Hotels in Jardine’s del Rey (5); Hotels in Topes de Collates (3); Tourist Agencies (2); Marinas (5); Stores in Old Havana (10);  Entities Directly Serving the Defense and Security Sectors (38); Additional Subentries of CIMEX (16); Additional Subentities of GAESA (13); Additional Subentries of GAVIOTA (4); and Additional Subentries of HABAGUANEX (1).

Conclusion

All of these new regulations are meant to implement President Trump’s National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba, which he signed on June 16, 2017, at an event in Miami Florida.[7]

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[1] U.S. Treasury Dep’t, Treasury, Commerce, and State Implement Changes to the Cuba Sanctions Rules (Nov. 8, 2017); U.S. Treasury Dep’t (Office of Foreign Assets Control), Frequently Asked Questions Related to Cuba (updated Nov. 8, 2017); Reuters, Trump Administration Tightens Sanctions Against Cuba, N.Y. Times (Nov. 8, 2018); Assoc. Press, US Takes Steps to Make It Harder for Americans to Visit Cuba, N.Y. times (Nov. 8, 2017); DeYoung, White House implements new Cuba policy restricting travel and trade, Wash. Post (Nov. 8, 2017).

[2] U.S. Treasury Dep’t (Office of Foreign Assets Control), Frequently Asked Questions Related to Cuba (updated Nov. 8, 2017).

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] U.S. State Dep’t, List of Restricted Entities and Subentities Associated With Cuba as of November 9, 2017 (Nov. 8, 2017); U.S. State Dep’t, Frequently Asked Questions on the Cuba Restricted List (Nov. 8, 2017).

[7]  White House, Trump’s National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba (June 16, 2017). This Memorandum and the Miami event were discussed in a prior post.